Review: iRig Keys I/O all-in-one portable digital audio workstation

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If you’re a budding musician or musician simply tight on space or spends time on the road, then you might be interested in IK Multimedia’s iRig Keys I/O. It’s a brand new self-contained digital audio workstation (DAW) for your Mac, PC, iPhone or iPad. It’s a MIDI controller with full-sized keys (25 or 49), a high resolution digital-audio interface (DAC) suitable for plugging in directly your guitar, bass or microphone, and a built-in pre-amp. All this comes in a self-contained compact lightweight portable unit along with with a bundle of software and apps.

A DAC is not something you’d normally find built-into a standard MIDI controller, but rather something you’d buy separately. This one offers up a high quality 96kHz-24bit audio along with switchable +48V phantom power for those instruments and microphones, like condenser mics that need a pre-amp.

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It’s all easily accessible from right at the back of the keyboard where you’ll find an array of nicely laid out jacks, including a combo jack that allows you to either plug in your 1/4” or XLR cable. Next to it is a handy gain control and on the opposite side a little button you can easily push to get your phantom when when needed and a foot pedal jack. There is also a pair of ¼” jacks for balanced stereo output to a PA or mixer as well as a standard 3.5mm jack so you can monitor the sound from your headphones. There’s also a mini-din connector labeled “Device” which you use to connect to either your Mac or PC (via USB) or to your iOS device (via Lightning). Both cables are included.

Bus, Battery or AC Powered

What’s also great is that when either cable is plugged in, you have enough juice to actually power your iRig Keys I/O. Now in the event you don’t have sufficient Bus power, you can run the keyboard via 4 X AA batteries (included) or via an optional proprietary IK power adapter.

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New Keyboard Design

The keyboard itself has 49 keys (there’s also a 25 key model). They’re full-sized, lightweight (not weighted down like professional keyboards) but still offer up some seriously fast synth-action. On the top are some pretty cool newly designed controls. Starting from the far left is a pair of vertical capacitive touch-control strips. They’re marked as PITCH and MOD(ulation) controls, so no more bend wheels, but even better, they’re actually fully programmable so you can change their use if you need to. Next to these is a complete touch sensitive transport section, giving you added functionality to control your DAW or your virtual instrument.

You also get a volume data switch which of course controls your volume level, but it also can be used to move around and make selections within your music apps instead of needing to use your computers arrow keys, mouse or track pad. This is pretty handy when you want to do things on the fly. There are also four touch sensitive knobs that you can use in two positions for eight total controls as well as eight multi-coloured LED-lit velocity sensitive pads.

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Software and Apps Galore

While the iRig Keys I/O comes with pretty much the hardware you need to start, create and master your own production what really helps complete the circle is the massive amount of software and apps you get. For the 25-key model you get a US $550 bundle and with the 49-key model it’s a whopping US $750.

This includes, IK’s SampleTank 3 sound and groove workstation, (includes 43+GB and 5000 inspiring sounds), T-RackS 4 Deluxe mix and mastering suite, with 9 powerful EQ and dynamics processors and the Pro-V vintage synthesizer derived from Syntronik for Mac/PC. For iPhone and iPad users you will also receive the full version of SampleTank.

The 49-key user gets as an added bonus namely the Miroslav Philharmonik 2 CE orchestral workstation for Mac/PC and the mobile edition for those running iOS.

There’s more. And what surprises me is the inclusion of non-IK branded product in the mix. As an added value, when you register your iRig Keys I/O with IK Multimedia in addition to unlocking your bonuses, you get two emails with serial number registrations for Ableton Live 9 Lite and Studio One Prime digital audio workstations.

You could of course use Apple’s GarageBand, but of course you now have more options.

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You also get a handy small standalone stand that slides under the keyboard to easily prop up your iPhone or iPad so it can sit plainly in front of you. It’s fairly steady as long as it sits tightly under the keyboard. For me, using a small desk space, I’m not 100% sure I wouldn’t knock it over, so I’d find a way to somehow brace it.

Also, in case you’re wondering, there is no Bluetooth connectivity. I suspect it also has to do to with latency. And while it’s great that it has a combo jack for input, it’s important to realize that you only have one input and thus only be able to plug one in at a time. So you may need to switch between guitar and mic.

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Bottom Line

Overall, the iRig Keys I/O is an impressive little unit that’s best described as pretty much as an-everything-you-need-to-create-music DAW. Add to that the massive software and app bundle and the hardware seems almost free. It’s well built and easy to use and more than ideal for a starting musician or for one who needs a compact solution. In fact, according to IK these two new keyboards have the smallest form factors in their respective classes and 25% lighter.

iRig Keys I/O is available now. It comes with all the software as mentioned above plus, 4 x AA batteries, Mini-DIN to USB and Mini-DIN to Lightning cables and a device stand for iPhone and iPad. It retails for US $199.99 (25-keys) and US $299.99 (49-keys) directly from IK Multimedia. I expect Canadian pricing to come in around $260 (25-keys) and $410ish (49-keys), so check with your favourite music shop.

The only other thing you may need to budget for is a bigger hard drive to store all the extras that come with the package and perhaps a US $49 carry case. There’s an optional iRig Keys I/O Mic, gooseneck condenser mic (available on pre-order) that slips right into the input port, so no stand or additional desk space would be required.

Rating: 5 / 5

Photos courtesy IK Multimedia Inc.

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Greg Gazin is the Real Canadian Gadget Guy, Columnist, Speaker, Podcaster & Author.

Technology – Entrepreneurship – Communications

Follow me on Twitter @gadgetgreg

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